S'bu Zikode's talk at the 30th anniversary of the 1981 protests against the Springbok tour of New Zealand
I wish to thank Global Peace and Justice, in Auckland, for inviting
me to New Zealand to speak on the progress of post-apartheid South
Africa and the birth of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA. I also wish
to thank Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA, the movement that I am part
of, for trusting me with the responsibility of representing it.
I also wish to extend our deepest gratitude to the anti-apartheid
movement here in New Zealand who stood firm with the people of South
Africa in the fight against apartheid. Many of our older comrades
remember watching, on TV, the protests that you organised against the
Springbok tour in 1981. There were thousands of you, many thousands of
you. You were attacked by the police. Many of you were beaten and
arrested. Your protests were a deep shock to the racists in South
Africa. It made them realise that although Ronald Regan and Margaret
Thatcher accepted their racism ordinary people in New Zealand did not.
Your protests also gave courage to the people struggling against
apartheid in South Africa. You were workers, priests, teachers,
housewives and students. You were men and women. You were old and young.
You were people in New Zealand who made people in South Africa know
that they were not alone in this world. The comrades who were of that
generation remember how your brave protests made their hearts sing with
joy and hope back in 1981.
As a movement we have always called for a living solidarity; a real
solidarity between people, a practical solidarity, an active solidarity,
a solidarity between equals. You have shown what can be achieved.
Thirty years later your struggle still stands as a real inspiration.
Abahlali also note, with great pleasure, the refusal of the Govan
Mbeki Award from the government of South Africa by John Minto in
solidarity with Abahlali baseMjondolo and all other struggling poor
people’s movements in South Africa. This was a powerful gesture, a
gesture of great integrity and a gesture which we celebrated. We were
honoured to welcome John Minto to our country, to our city and to the
Kennedy Road shack settlement. The Poor People’s Alliance salutes John
Minto’s profound integrity.
It is with great sadness that today you will hear unpleasant news.
Today you will hear how your struggle here for freedom in South Africa
has been betrayed to free some few individuals and not the people of
South Africa. Since the end of apartheid the rich have got richer and
the poor have got poorer. Many politicians and their families have
become rich. But the politicians that rose to power on a people’s
struggle have become new oppressors in the name of a democratic state.
Your efforts, just like other people's efforts around the world, just
like the efforts of people in South Africa for a free and just country,
have been reduced into lousy service delivery.
We appreciate the progress made by millions of South Africans and
people around the world in defeating apartheid. Our first democratic
election in 1994 brought hope for millions of South Africans. We had
high hopes that racism was coming to an end, that political violence and
political and economic intolerance were coming to an end. We had high
hopes that good education, health care and a decent income would be
basic rights. Of course the shack dwellers had high hopes that housing
would be a basic human right. In his first state of the nation address
Nelson Mandela proclaimed the right to housing and committed his
government to build housing for the poor, through the Reconstruction and
Development Program (RDP). A remarkable number of houses have been
built but they have been built very poorly, they are very small, and
they are built far away from cities. The houses built by the ANC are
smaller and further away from the cities than the houses built by
apartheid. When allocated they are given to friends, family members of
local councillors and comrades of the ruling party. Houses and other
development go to party supporters so that the party can exploit poverty
to win votes and remain in power.
Land has not been fairly redistributed. The economy continues to
exclude and to exploit. Millions are without work and millions are
working but still poor and without security. Most of the land and the
economy remains in the hands of rich whites. They have been joined by
some rich blacks but the poor, the majority, remain locked out. The
great change we have seen over the past seventeen years has been the
change from a white government to a black government but this black
government is not a government of the people. It is led by a few wealthy
individuals who continue to enrich themselves in the name of democracy.
Corruption in governance has become the norm. Politics has become a new
economic path and a career for the young members of the ruling party.
Politics means access to tenders, access to wealth and control. Politics
is not about serving the people.
We had thought that the new government would replace a system of
exclusion and inequality with a just society. But what they have
actually done is to simply take their place in that system of exclusion
and inequality. They have not tried to transform that system. We are
told that now that the system is under black management we are free. We
have refused to accept this. When the government celebrates Freedom Day
in the stadiums every year we mourn unFreedom Day in the shacks.
Millions of people remain in shacks. In fact the number of shacks is
growing. Shack dwellers live like pigs in the mud, with rats, in homes
that leak in the rain and are often in flames. People are burnt to death
in shack fires because we are denied electricity and have to use
candles and gas stoves. But when we connect ourselves to electricity the
municipalities come with guns to disconnect us. Sometimes shack
dwellers are treated like children. Sometimes we are treated like
criminals. We are rarely treated as citizens.
The housing backlog was 1.5 million in the 1994. It now stands at
approximately 2.1 million. That means that approximately 12-million
South Africans are still in need of decent shelter. The number of shack
settlements in South Africa has grown from 300 in 1994 to 2 600 in 2011.
This is unfair in a state that claims to be democratic. Most shack
dwellers are black. This is unfair in a state that claims to have
liberated black people.
These shack settlements lack basic services. There is often no
sanitation and very little access to water. There is no electricity, no
road access and no refuse collection. Those in power do not consult when
making decisions. There are very few jobs and government jobs are given
to party members, friends or family members. The poor are living under
constant threat of eviction. In these evictions some are left homeless
and others are forcibly removed to human dumping grounds outside the
cities. No one can say that this is freedom.
Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dweller’s movement, realised that
politicians can no longer be trusted. It was clear that our government
has betrayed us; that the political leadership that we most trusted has
betrayed the poor. It was at this stage that we began organising
ourselves as shack dwellers, unemployed people and farm dwellers. It is
on the basis of this that Abahlali was formed to fight for, protect,
promote and advanced the interests and the dignity of all the shack
dwellers and other poor people in South Africa. We are a movement of the
poor, for the poor and by the poor.
Abahlali has refused to accept that the poor should be passive
receivers of services. We have refused to be locked in poverty. We have
refused to sit quietly while clever people discuss our future without
our presence. We have refused to know our place in the important
discussions. We have refused to keep to our place in the shacks and in
poverty. Yes we have refused to be treated with disrespect and
indignity. Our politic is very simple - we believe that everyone has the
same right to shape the future of our cities and our country and that
the land and wealth of the country should be shared equally by the
people of the country.
Our everyday struggle has confirmed how strong we have become when
thinking together, walking together and resisting evictions together.
Our struggle has threatened politicians, the state, businesses, the
regressive left and some academics and some civil society organisations
who think it is their job to think for the poor and to represent the
poor. It has become clear that there is no political will to respect and
accept shack dwellers as human beings who can think by both the state
and some civil society organisations. Our movement is committed to
campaign for a society in which every human being counts the same. We
see a society in which each person counts as one, in which all people
are treated the same, as a normal society.
Our movement has fought many battles and won many victories. We have
successful stopped many evictions in our cities. We have fought against
transit camps. We have fought for the electrification of shacks in
Durban. We have fought the Slums Act. We have fought against the
criminalisation of shack activists. We have fought to defend the right
of shack intellectuals to be able to think and discuss with all other
intellectuals. And of course we have fought to keep the spirit of
Abahlalism alive. We have faced serious repression – arrests, beatings
and the destruction of our homes – but our movement has survived. While
we remain in our shacks we are proud of our struggle and we will
continue to confront all forms of exclusion and oppression.
Today we are appealing once again to all New Zealanders to stand in
solidarity with the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, to
stand in solidarity with all the poor people’s movements in south Africa
- the Anti–Eviction Campaign, the Rural Network, the Landless Peoples
Movement and the Unemployed Peoples Movement.
We have tried to be in solidarity with people struggling in other
countries, like the people of Haiti. If there comes a time when people
in New Zealand need support from people in South Africa we will do what
we can to support your struggles. At a deep level all our struggles are
the same. We are all trying to insist that every person is a person, to
build the power of the poor and to reimagine how power can work in our
societies. We are all trying to humanise the world.
The struggle in South Africa, like in so many countries in the world,
is far from over. But people are struggling all over the world. The
struggle for human dignity remains at large in South Africa and in the
world. Hope remains at large in South Africa and in the world.
I thank you all. You are all warmly welcomed to visit us if you are in South Africa.
New Zealand, 11 September 2011
A version of this speech was published in the Mercury.